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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Audio interview with Richard Saul Wurman talking about Luis I Kahn and information architecture


architect/artist: Richard Saul Wurman
interview title: Interview with Richard Saul Wurman
interviews compilation no: A-05
interview format: Audio
date: 2009
appeared in: Wildly Appropriate
interviewer: Dan Klyn
photo by:


Interview Details:

Richard Saul Wurman (March 26, 1935) is an architect and graphic designer. He is considered a pioneer in the practice of making information understandable.

He has written and designed over 80 books and created the TED conferences (with which he is no longer associated). In 1976, he coined the phrase information architect out of his reaction to a society that daily creates massive amounts of information, but with little care or order. He created the popular ACCESS travel guide books, which were innovative in their use of mapping content by neighborhood. Simple but effective use of colored text allowed readers to separate, locate and evaluate restaurants, museums, parks, and other categorical destinations quickly. With this series of books, Wurman firmly established the purpose of information architecture.

This audio interview with Richard Saul Wurman (RSW) is the compilation of the five part interview that was conducted by Dan Klyn for his blog.

(as appeared in website)

all five parts of my interview with RSW in one audio file:
(for other versions click below)
iPod/iTunes chapterized version
mp3 version

to play now

part one:

Interview with Richard Saul Wurman - Part 1

Posted on March 30, 2009, 9:35 pm, by Dan Klyn

Part one of my first interview with RSW. In this introductory segment I asked him about the 1976 AIA Conference, about the job-title “information architect” and also about librarianship as it pertains (or not) to his concept of IA.

I was passionate about understanding things that I didn’t understand. Making the complex clear. I haven’t wavered in that passion, but I’ve grown up with adding more and more to my repertoire as far as making it a definable field for myself and rules for how to do it.

Play audio

part two:

Part two of my first interview with RSW. In this segment I asked him about Louis Kahn: his favorite Kahn buildings and what (if anything) Kahn taught Wurman about information architecture.

[Kahn] said to me, after a pause, he said “Ricky,” … because that’s what he called me, he said “Ricky, even when I get a haircut I’m an Architect” … he said “do whatever interests you.” He gave me permission. And that was like a bag of sand off of my shoulders, and gave me permission to follow my interests.
part three will also be on Kahn.

Play audio

part 3:

In the first part of this segment, RSW expands on the Kahnian design principle of “dumbness”, refuses to be included in or associated with anything called deliverables, talks about his favorite Kahn buildings, and the spiritualism in Kahn’s charcoal drawings.

Lou worked in charcoal a great deal. That’s an amazing decision he made, to work in a material that was so imprecise - and so spiritual. He would only use charcoal (he was a romantic ) made from the vines of grapevines, and it was a lovely charcoal, and he … his hands and his palms and his shirt and sometimes even his face would have smudges, would have charcoal on them. …. He saw something emerging. His designs emerged like animated films. So they had this life force in them…

In the second part of this segment I ask RSW about what architects might have that in their process or training or approach that allows them to do a better job with clients in the early schematic phase of a project.

Play audio

part: 4

In this segment, RSW talks about his approach to creating websites (spoiler: it’s how he approaches everything), extolls the “mundane” aspects of IA, and expresses skepticism about the idea that architects’ work might benefit from separating out the instructional and diagrammatic from the emotional and experiential.

The common thought is that architects build buildings. No, architects make instructions for having someone else build them. So basically architects, if you’re talking about architects… or CEOs or generals… they give instructions. So what you’re really are in as an information architect and a big hunk of information architecture is giving instructions.

Play audio

part: 5

And here’s the final segment of my interview with a truly great man. Soon I’ll post a single-file version of the whole interview. The money quote from this segment came in reply to a somewhat whiney observation I made about how RSW’s methodology is bitter-sweet to me because I perceive it as one that somebody like me couldn’t reverse-engineer and use in my own practice. He disagreed. Kindof:

Why not? Why do you not think that? You just have to rewire your fuckin’ brain is all. You have to grasp your life as an ignorant person and nobody’s willing to do that the way I am. Unless you really empty yourself you can’t fill it up in the proper way. And you’re not willing to do that. It’s too… it’s too… it’s SCARY!

Play audio


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